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Last night, American Horror Story: Freak Show made its boisterously calamitous debut on FX, and it was a doozy on every level. No sequence better distills the surreality of Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk’s anthology series than the one you’ll see below, in which Jessica Lange’s German carnival owner Elsa Mars belts out a David Bowie hit dressed as David Bowie, 19 years before the song was released.
The mind says, “Fantastic,” while the heart says, “Terrible.” She’s performing “Life on Mars,” a song that doesn’t even exist in the mind of its creator, but that’s also kind of the point, as the scene is an embellished fantasy born of Elsa’s decaying sense of pride. The main Cabinet of Curiosities tent has been rented out by Gloria Mott (Frances Conroy) and her son Dandy (Finn Wittrock), and Elsa performs for the two of them as if she was centerstage for a nightly Vegas show. In her mind, she is the alluring performer she was in years past.
She rides in on a prop rocket ship – already a sign that things are amiss, as the rocket is far more clean and pristine than anything else we’ve seen in this place – and she is soon accompanied by many of the other carnival acts. Some are playing instruments, such as real-life drummer Mat Fraser’s Paul the Illustrated Seal, and there are spotlights moving and other big stage props and tons of glitter and shit. Elsa is also watching herself sing from offstage while wearing her old performance garb. Though the two Jessica Langes might frighten me at first, this is a stage show worth going to see, especially in the bowels of Jupiter, Florida in 1952. Just look at those wooden wave effects!
That is, if this were happening in real life. But no, it’s soon shown to be a detailed trick of Elsa’s mind, and one that she also appears taken aback by. This leaves audiences to wonder if she really belted that song out there like that without any music at all – which would seem to be the case given Gloria’s reaction in the show. So all in all, the fact that we’ve just heard a song from the future makes complete sense in this context. (FYI, it’s not the only time something like that will happen this season.)
American Horror Story is known for some oddball sequences, the most notable of which before Freak Show was from Asylum’s ”The Name Game,” which was also a tempo-switching musical number. Well, my friends, I believe German-accented David Bowie takes the cake. The glitter-topped cake.
Read my thoughts on last night’s episode here and find American Horror Story: Freak Show every Wednesday night on FX.